Saddam urges Iraqis to resist no-fly zones

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SADDAM HUSSEIN condemned as illegal the Western "no-fly" zones imposed over northern and southern Iraq and said yesterday his people would resist them with "bravery and courage".

The Iraqi news Agency said President Saddam, maintaining Iraq's recent strong challenge to the no-fly zones, told his cabinet they were "flagrant and clear-cut violations of international laws, accords and norms, particularly the United Nations charter".

The statement was his first public comment on the recent clashes between Iraqi air defence units and warplanes patrolling the zones. The zones were set up by Western forces after the 1991 Gulf War to limit his power in northern Kurdish and southern Shia regions.

Iraq has repeatedly challenged the no-fly zones since the end of a four- day campaign of air strikes launched by United States and British forces two weeks ago.

Senior Iraqi officials have said Baghdad will continue to defy the no- fly zones and an Iraqi government newspaper yesterday predicted the confrontation with Washington and London would worsen after a pause over the new year.

President Saddam described the no-fly zones as "an aggressive operation, which violates the will of the Arab people and the Iraqi people, which rejects them and is determined to resist them with all bravery and courage.

"Arabs and just people all over the world are asking what these planes are doing, flying in the skies of an independent country, and why have they been violating the air space of this country for eight years without a UN resolution permitting this," the Iraqi agency quoted him as saying.

He also criticised Arab nations for delaying until 24 January a summit at which the US-British attacks on Iraq would have been on the agenda, saying the delay was deliberately intended to reduce any sense of urgency in tackling the air strikes.

In Egypt, foreign ministers of four Arab countries held secret talks at the weekend to try to forge a strategy on Iraq. The ministers from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen met at the invitation of Egypt's Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, at Hurghada, 255 miles south of Cairo. Diplomats said the ministers agreed to lobby the Arab League to put off a meeting on Iraq indefinitely for fear that it would only further split Arab ranks. (Reuters)